Latino Media Confronts SNL’s “Latino Problem” Head On

Jan 11, 2014
11:28 AM

This week several English-language Latino-themed news sites published stories and op-eds about how NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” has a diversity problem with casting Latino comedy talent. This all began in November when several organizations, headed up by the National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts (NHFA) and the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), published an open letter to SNL creator Lorne Michaels.

Letter to Mr. Lorne Michaels (1)

That led to a Washington Post letter published last weekend by NHFA’s Felix Sanchez, calling for the show to focus on more Latino and Asian talent for the show.

Yesterday the theme was front and center in several outlets.

FUSION’S Alicia Melendez offered her commentary:

Then there is this article from Fox News Latino:

In the current season of the long-running comedy sketch show, there are no Asian, Native Americans or Latinos in the cast – although they will play these ethnicities in skits. Horatio Sanz, who left the show in 2006, and Fred Armisen, who departed last season, were the only two Latinos in the cast.

“When Fred was on, he is a Latino by birth, but that is not how he is positioned in the marketplace,” Sanchez said of Armisen, who is of Venezuelan descent. “It’s not that they don’t include Latino characters (in skits), it’s just that they don’t have any Latinos portraying them.”

If the show’s producers are viewing diversity as a “black-white issue” they have completed in satisfying their critics, but the discussion needs to be broader, Sanchez said.

“Diversity has shifted to reflect a multicultural world and SNL, as a pop culture entity, must represent the mosaic of Americana,” he said.

Sanchez also wrote a piece in VOXXI:

SNL executives could argue that their job is to present the best combination of talent they can find, regardless of ethnicity. That may be a defensible position for some, but it does not excuse SNL from making an effort to reach out to sources where talent in different shades of brown can be found.

He concludes:

U.S. demography has shifted and will continue to trend multiethnic/multicultural. Saturday Night Live’s trademark has always been its ability to reflect a changing culture with audacious humor, while serving as a springboard for aspiring young comics. If it loses that edge, something else will and should take its place, something that reflects America’s true diversity today.

It does appear that the message is creeping into mainstream English sites. From Slate:

Unfortunately, this is hardly a problem confined to America’s pre-eminent sketch comedy show. SNL’s current predicament is a perfect example of why our national conversation about diversity spins in place and never actually goes anywhere. For years now, from our television screens to our corporate boardrooms, we’ve been watching a tug of war take place: racial-justice advocates demanding more and more diversity and exasperated hiring managers exclaiming, We cant find any diversity! Were looking hard, we promise! One reason these two factions keep talking past each other is that they’re talking about two completely different things. When racial-justice advocates call for more diversity, what they’re saying is that the hiring pipelines into America’s majority-white industries need to be expanded to include a truly multicultural array of voices and talents from all ethnic corners of America; they want equal opportunity for minorities who don’t necessarily conform to the social norms of the white majority. When exasperated hiring managers use the word diversity, what they really mean is that they’re looking for assimilated diversity—people like [Maya] Rudolph and Zamata. More Bill Cosbys. More Will Smiths. Faces and voices that are black but nonetheless reflect a cultural bearing that white people understand and feel comfortable with.

And from NPR’s Eric Deggans:

Hispanics are the largest ethnic minority group in America. But they are tremendously underrepresented in mainstream TV shows, and SNL is no exception. How many great skits or bits is the show missing because it doesn’t have performers or writers who know Latino culture? Time to close that gap as well.

We have been saying it for years. SNL has a “Latino problem,” and the question remains: do you work hard to change that or do you just produce your own material?